The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with almost 300 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors.
Here are some of the highlights of the report:
Subscriber growth pivoting to Asia
By the end of 2016, two thirds of the world’s population had a mobile subscription – a total of 4.8 billion unique subscribers. There is a clear geographic shift underway, with Asia Pacific set to account for two thirds of the 860 million new subscribers expected globally by the end of the decade. India, already the world’s second largest mobile market, will be the primary driver of this growth, with 310 million new unique subscribers. By 2020, almost three quarters of the world’s population – or 5.7 billion people – will subscribe to mobile services. Regional penetration rates are forecast to range from 50% in Sub-Saharan Africa to 87% in Europe.
4G uptake driving surge in mobile broadband adoption
The generational shift to mobile broadband networks and smartphones continues to gain momentum. Mobile broadband connections (3G and 4G technologies) accounted for 55% of total connections in 2016 – a figure that will be close to three quarters of the connections base by 2020. The proportion of 4G connections alone is forecast to almost double from 23% to 41% by the end of the decade.
5G will see a major shift in how cellular networks are designed and what they are used for. Early deployments will focus on enhanced mobile broadband as the key customer proposition but 5G’s capabilities will evolve over time. 5G networks are forecast to cover around a third of the global population by 2025, with adoption reaching 1.1 billion connections.
Mobile revenue growth outlook remains modest
Total mobile revenues reached $1.05 trillion in 2016, up 2.2% on 2015, marking the second consecutive year of rising revenue growth. Developing markets saw a notable improvement in growth rates as the macroeconomic headwinds eased and key markets such as China and India posted encouraging growth rates. However, the future outlook remains mixed, with increasing competition, regulatory intervention and slowing subscriber growth weighing on revenue growth.
Operators have invested $1.2 trillion in capex since 2010. With global mobile capex levels having peaked in 2015, they fell by 6% in 2016. Over the medium term, capex levels will continue to decline but at a slower rate, before returning to growth in 2020. Operators in advanced telecoms markets will begin to invest in the necessary infrastructure to support 5G towards the end of the decade, with any uplift in capex likely to occur as operators roll out 5G.
Shift in consumer engagement to mobile and the rise of the platform economy
The shift of consumer engagement to mobile is now manifesting itself in the rapid growth of messaging platforms, which are using their scale to monetise a growing range of services. With a global subscriber base that is soon to reach 5 billion, the mobile ecosystem has created a global digital platform that is increasingly connecting everyone and everything. The impact of this digital platform is felt across a broad range of sectors as companies reinvent their business models to offer new and innovative services.
Players across the broader mobile ecosystem have already adopted open innovation strategies and embraced the power of collaborative partnerships, particularly those in the app economy and the mobile internet. Collaboration and open standards allow platforms to scale rapidly – a key success factor when competing digital platforms have already achieved significant scale. Mobile operators are developing new business models that leverage these trends to offer new platforms and services. As well as opening the door to new revenue streams, these trends will allow a faster pace of innovation and raise the prospect of a lower cost operating model for operators at a time when margins and cash flows remain under pressure.